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Cats can understand feline roommates' names, recognize faces: Japanese study

Cats are seen during an experiment to see if they understand the names of their feline roommates. (Photo courtesy of Saho Takagi, a research fellow at Azabu University)

OSAKA -- Cats learn the names and faces of the feline friends they live with, a group of scientists from Kyoto University and other institutions has discovered. According to the team, which published its findings in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports, the discovery could help prove cats' linguistic cognition.

    The team focused on a behavior common to humans and animals -- staring at a thing or event longer due to surprise when the unexpected happens -- and tested a total of 48 cats that lived in groups of three or more in regular households and at cat cafes (19 felines at regular homes and 29 at cat cafes).

    The scientists had a cat listen to one of its feline roommates' names being called and immediately after that it was shown pictures of the name's owner and other cats on a laptop monitor. As a result, household cats tended to stare at the monitor longer when the name being called and the photo on the monitor didn't match. Cat cafe felines, on the other hand, showed no significant difference in their reactions. The team believes that cat cafe pets have fewer opportunities where their individual names get called because there are many cats kept at such cafes, and that this factor affected how they reacted in the experiment.

    Studies have shown that dogs remember the names of their toys. Similar studies on cats, however, had not advanced as felines exhibit greater differences from one animal to another in expressions of their emotion and behavior.

    Saho Takagi, a research fellow specializing in comparative cognitive science at Azabu University in Kanagawa Prefecture who took on this research when she was studying at Kyoto University, said of the significance of the finding, "It's been believed that cats are indifferent to things that don't benefit them, but we've learned that they pay attention to the communication between their human and feline roommates. Going forward, I want to study how cats learn the names and faces of other cats."

    (Japanese original by Mai Suganuma, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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